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Fil Menczer

Fil Menczer

I am a Professor of Informatics and Computer Science and the Director of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing. I also have courtesy appointments in Cognitive Science and Physics, serve on the Scientific Leadership Team of the IU Network Science Institute (IUNI), and am affiliated with the Center for Data and Search Informatics and the Biocomplexity Institute. Finally I am a Senior Research Fellow of The Kinsey Institute and a Fellow at the ISI Foundation in Torino, Italy.

Research in my group, NaN, focuses on Web science, social media, social networks, social computing, Web search and data mining, distributed and intelligent Web applications, and modeling of complex information networks.

My calendar is a bit crowded. You may schedule an appointment with Tara Holbrook, our center’s administrative assistant. Or you can try your luck by email, phone (+1-812-856-1377), fax (+1-812-855-0600), or in person (Informatics East room 314).

Prospective students interested in joining my group, NaN, should look at this advice before contacting me. Then, if still interested, they should apply to one of our PhD programs: Informatics (Complex Systems track), Computer ScienceCognitive Science, or a combination. I am usually unable to respond to inquiries from prospective students unless they have already been admitted to one of these programs.

Latest News from the Blog



CNetS research at CCS’15

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Big success for CNetS researchers at the Conference on Complex Systems (CCS’15)! Here are the accepted talks from our center:

  1. Computational fact checking from knowledge networks by Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia, Prashant Shiralkar, Johan Bollen, Luis M Rocha, Filippo Menczer and Alessandro Flammini
  2. Control of complex networks requires structure and dynamics by Alexander Gates and Luis M. Rocha
  3. Darwin’s Semantic Voyage by Jaimie Murdock, Simon DeDeo, and Colin Allen
  4. Defining and Identifying Sleeping Beauties in Science by Qing Ke, Emilio Ferrara, Filippo Radicchi and Alessandro Flammini
  5. Detecting conflict in social unrest using Instagram by Rion Brattig Correia, Kwan Nok Chan and Luis M. Rocha
  6. Detecting Campaigns in Social Media by Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Filippo Menczer and Alessandro Flammini
  7. Discourse Polarization in the US Congress by Rion Brattig Correia, Kwan Nok Chan and Luis M. Rocha
  8. Eigenmood Twitter Analysis: measuring collective mood variation by Ian B. Wood, Joana Gonçalves-Sá, Johan Bollen and Luis M. Rocha
  9. Evolution of Online User Behavior During a Social Upheaval by Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Christine Ogan, Filippo Menczer and Alessandro Flammini
  10. How human perception of the urban environment influences the abandonment process by Stefani Crabstree, Simon DeDeo
  11. Information theoretic structures of the French Revolution by Alexander Barron, Simon DeDeo, and Rebecca Spang
  12. Measuring Emotional Contagion in Online Social Networks by Zeyao Yang, Emilio Ferrara
  13. Modularity and the Spread of Perturbations in Complex Dynamical Systems by Artemy Kolchinsky, Alexander J. Gates and Luis M. Rocha
  14. On Predictability of Rare Events Leveraging Social Media by Lei Le, Emilio Ferrara and Alessandro Flammini
  15. Optimal network modularity for information diffusion by Azadeh Nematzadeh, Emilio Ferrara, Alessandro Flammini and Yong-Yeol Ahn
  16. Redundancy and control in complex networks by Luis Rocha
  17. The Rise of Social Bots in Online Social Networks by Emilio Ferrara, Onur Varol, Prashant Shiralkar, Clayton Davis, Filippo Menczer and Alessandro Flammini

Simon DeDeo will also deliver one of the plenary talks.

In addition, CNetS researchers presented several papers at the recent NetSci, ICCSS, CAP 2015, CSCW, YTH Live, WWW, and ICCS conferences. Congratulations!



Indiana University Network Science Institute

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IUNI announcement in Science magazine

The new Indiana University Network Science Institute (IUNI) unites 100+ researchers at IU — building on their world-renowned multidisciplinary expertise toward further scientific understanding of the complex networked systems of our world. Through pioneering new approaches in mapping, representing, visualizing, modeling, and analyzing diverse complex networks across levels and disciplines, IUNI will lead the way. We keep track of the big picture — ever-changing and interconnected. We’re laying the groundwork for innovative research and discovery in the area of network science.



The Truth about Truthy

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The Truthy project was misrepresented in “The Kelly File” and “Fox and Friends” broadcasts by Fox News on 26 and 28 Aug 2014. Photo by MattGagnon [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

For the past four years, researchers at the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing have been studying the ways in which information spreads on social media networks such as Twitter. This basic research project is federally funded, like a large percentage of university research across the country.

The project, informally dubbed “Truthy,” makes use of complex computer models to analyze the sharing of information on social media to determine how popular sentiment, user influence, attention, social network structure, and other factors affect the manner in which information is disseminated. Additionally, an important goal of the Truthy project is to better understand how social media can be abused.

Since 25 Aug 2014, when a first misleading article was posted on a conservative blog, the Truthy project has come under criticism from some, who have misrepresented its goals. Contrary to these claims, the target is the study of the structural patterns of information diffusion. For example, an email sent simultaneously to a million addresses is likely spam, even if we have no automatic way to determine whether its content is true or false. The assumption behind the Truthy effort is that an understanding of the spreading patterns may facilitate the identification of abuse, independent from the nature or political color of the communication.

While the Truthy platform provides support to study the evolution of communication in all portions of the political spectrum, it is not informed by political partisanship. The machine learning algorithms used to identify suspicious patterns of information diffusion are entirely oblivious to the possibly political partisanship of the messages.

Read the facts below for a primer on Truthy. More detailed information can be found on the Truthy website and in our publications.

Updates:

8/28/2014: Despite the clarifications in this post, Fox News and others continued to perpetrate their attacks to our research project and to the PI personally. Their accusations are based on  false claims, supported by bits of text and figures selectively extracted from our writings and presented completely out of context, in misleading ways. None of the researchers were contacted for comments before these outlandish conspiracy theories were aired and published. There is a good dose of irony in a research project that studies the diffusion of misinformation becoming the target of such a powerful disinformation machine.

9/3/2014: David Uberti wrote an accurate account of recent events in Columbia Journalism Review.

10/18/2014: Unfortunately, the smear campaign against our research project continues, with misleading information echoed in an op-ed by FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who did not contact any of the researchers with questions about the accuracy of his allegations.

10/22/2014: Amid news reports that the chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee initiated an investigation into the NSF grant supporting our project, read our interview in the Washington Post’s Monkey Cage setting the record straight about our research.

CRA, ACM, AAAI, USENIX, and SIAM write to congress about Truthy project

10/23/2014: While the House Majority Leader joins the fray, IU releases a statement in support of our work.

10/24/2014: Fox News and FCC Commissioner Pai continue to spread disinformation about our research.

10/27/2014: Some accurate coverage of the controversy appeared in Physics Today, Motherboard, Motherboard, and Indianapolis Star over the past few days.

11/3/2014: Jeffrey Mervis covers the controversy about this project in Science. We also provided additional information about our research in a slide deck embedded at the bottom of this post. 

11/4/2014: Five leading computing societies and associations (CRA, ACM, AAAI, USENIX, and SIAM) wrote a joint letter to the chairman and the committee ranking member of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology expressing their concern over mischaracterizations of our research.

11/7/2014: Over the past few days we have seen more coverage in Computer World, The Hill, Information Week, and Science about the reactions of the computing and science communities to the Truthy controversy.

11/11/2014: The House Science Committee Chairman sent a letter to the director of the  NSF on November 10, stating that our grant “was intended to create standards for online political discussion” and that a web service developed under the grant “targeted conservative social media messages.” These allegations are false, as we have explained in this post, in the slides embedded below, and in our publications — including the one quoted in the Chairman’s letter. On the same day, the Association of American Universities released a statement on the grant inquires by the House Science Committee.

11/21/2014: False rumors about our research continue to be spread. Some of the questions we have received suggested that our two separate project and demo websites were generating confusion, so we merged them into a redesigned research website with information and highlights about the research project, publications, demos, data, etc.

Facts about Truthy:

  1. Truthy is an informal nickname associated with a research project of the Center for Complex Networks and Systems Research at the IU School of Informatics and Computing. The project aims to study how information spreads on social media, such as Twitter.
  2. The project has focused on domains such as news, politics, social movements, scientific results, and trending social media topics. Researchers develop theoretical computer models and validate them by analyzing public data, mainly from the Twitter streaming API.
  3. Social media posts available through public APIs are processed without human intervention or judgment to visualize and study the spread of millions of memes. We aim to build a platform to make these analytic tools easily accessible to social scientists, reporters, and the general public.
  4. An important goal of the project is to help mitigate misuse and abuse of social media by helping us better understand how social media can be potentially abused. For example: when social bots are used to create the appearance of human-generated communication (hence the name “truthy”).  We study whether it is possible to automatically differentiate between organic content and so-called “astroturf.”
  5. Examples of research to date include analyses of geographic and temporal patterns in movements like Occupy Wall Street, societal unrest in Turkey, the polarization of online political discourse, the use of social media data to predict election outcomes and stock market movements, and the geographic diffusion of trending topics.
  6. On the more theoretical side, we have studied how individuals’  limited attention span affects what information we propagate and what social connections we make, and how the structure of social networks can help predict which memes are likely to become viral.
  7. Hundreds of researchers across the U.S. and the world are studying similar issues based on the same data and with analogous goals — these topics were studied well before the advent of social media. In the US these research efforts are supported not only by the NSF but also by other federal funding agencies such as DoD, DARPA, and IARPA.
  8. The results of our research have been covered widely in the press, published in top peer-reviewed journals, and presented at top conferences worldwide. All papers are publicly available.


Finally, the Truthy research project is not and never was:

  • a political watchdog
  • a database to be used by the federal government to monitor the activities of those who oppose its policies
  • a government probe of social media
  • an attempt to suppress free speech or limit political speech or develop standards for online political speech
  • a way to define “misinformation”
  • a partisan political effort
  • a system targeting political messages and commentary connected to conservative groups
  • a mechanism to terminate any social media accounts
  • a database tracking hate speech


Best paper award at WebSci14

world_turkeyCongratulations to Onur Varol, Emilio Ferrara, Chris Ogan, Fil Menczer, and Sandro Flammini for winning the ACM Web Science 2014 Best Paper Award with their paper Evolution of online user behavior during a social upheaval (preprint). In the paper, the authors study the pivotal role played by Twitter during the political mobilization of the Gezi Park movement in Turkey. By analyzing over 2.3 million tweets produced during 25 days of protest in 2013, the authors show that similarity in trends of discussion mirrors geographic cues. The analysis also reveals that the conversation becomes more democratic as events unfold, with a redistribution of influence over time in the user population. Finally, the study highlights how real-world events, such as political speeches and police actions, affect social media conversations and trigger changes in individual behavior.

Congratulations also go to Luca Aiello and Rossano Schifanella, both former visitors and members of CNetS, who won the Best Presentation Award with their talk on Reading the Source Code of Social Ties (preprint).



WebSci14

websci14We are excited to announce that the ACM Web Science 2014 Conference will be hosted by our center on the beautiful IUB campus  June 23–26, 2014. Web Science studies the vast information network of people, communities, organizations, applications, and policies that shape and are shaped by the Web, the largest artifact constructed by humans in history. Computing, physical, and social sciences come together, complementing each other in understanding how the Web affects our interactions and behaviors. Previous editions of the conference were held in Athens, Raleigh, Koblenz, Evanston, and Paris. The conference is organized on behalf of the Web Science Trust by general co-chairs Fil Menczer, Jim Hendler, and Bill Dutton. Follow us on Twitter and see you in Bloomington!



DESPIC team presents Bot Or Not demo and six posters at DoD meeting

IU Bot or Bot poster The DESPIC team at the Center for Complex Systems and Networks Research (CNetS) presented a demo of a new tool named BotOrNot at a DoD meeting held in Arlington, Virginia on April 23-25, 2014.  BotOrNot (truthy.indiana.edu/botornot) is a tool to automatically detect whether a given Twitter user is a social bot or a human. Trained on Twitter bots collected by our lab and the infolab at Texas A&M University, BotOrNot analyzes over a thousand features from the user’s friendship network, content, and temporal information in real time and estimates the degree to which the account may be a bot. In addition to the demo, the DESPIC team (including colleagues at the University of Michigan)  presented several posters on Scalable Architecture for Social Media ObservatoryMeme Clustering in  Streaming DataPersuasion Detection in Social StreamsHigh-Resolution Anomaly Detection in Social Streams, and Early Detection and Analysis of Rumors. See more coverage of BotOrNot on PCWorld, IDS, BBCPolitico, and MIT Technology Review.